InputAccel and Kofax Alternative – Ephesoft Open Source Document Scanning

We have recently been evaluating the document capture capabilities available through the Ephesoft (http://www.ephesoft.com) document capture platform.  Typically clients have been tied into the suite approach from a vendor where the vendor already owns a scanning solution or the solution is bundled with the ECM purchase.  For those clients looking for alternatives, we would recommend looking at open source products.  For Desktop scanning, we have had luck with our OpenCapture solution.  For this post, we will look more at batch and bulk mode scanning and compare Ephesoft to InputAccel/Kofax.

The Ephesoft Platform

What makes Ephesoft unique is its platform is made available through an Open Source model with costs only incurred depending on the level of desired support.  There are no individual software module license fees or per-page capture processing fees as one is likely to find with proprietary capture software such as Kofax or EMC Captiva InputAccel.  As a proponent of Open Source software ourselves, we were interested in getting our hands around how Ephesoft works and seeing when/how it might be a logical alternative to Kofax or InputAccel.

The components available through Ephesoft are all accessed through web-based interfaces and leverage the latest open source technologies such as Spring DM, Equinox (OSDi), Hibernate, Lucene, and jBPM to name a few.  For those familiar with the InputAccel and Kofax model, Ephesoft follows a similar paradigm of allowing customers to link together individual modules of capture functionality like scanning, indexing, OCR, etc. into a capture process depending on business needs.  There are also some pre-built solutions available from Ephesoft to jumpstart mailroom automation processes for common documents such as Invoices, Claims, Sales Order and more.

We installed the free Community Edition of Ephesoft which includes some but not all of the platform features.  The
Enterprise Edition provides both additional functionality as well as support and is recommended for production implementations.  A list of differences between the two editions can be found on the Ephesoft site (http://www.ephesoft.com/downloads/downloads-options).

The install itself was straightforward – the main components of the platform are installed to a J2EE application server (e.g., Tomcat) and Ephesoft also leverages a MySQL database to manage capture process data, batch data, etc.  The installer walks you through all the relevant steps.  We were up and running with the sample capture processes in less than an hour.

How Does It Compare?

With the caveat that we mainly looked at the sample capture processes included in the Community Edition, we were impressed by what was available:

  • A great benefit was the web browser access to all the imaging tasks. In addition the different functionality could be
    accessed from one browser instance – for example there is no launching of separate applications to move between indexing and QA functions for example. All the tasks can be done from one browser window.
  • The concepts of capture processes, batches based on those processes, and automating the movement of documents through module to module was on par with basic common processes implemented in InputAccel or Kofax.
  • Being Open Source, even some functionalityconsidered to be on a more premier level through the proprietary packages, such as OCR and Automatic Classification, was available right in the Community Edition and worked quite well.
  • Export options are somewhat limited in comparison, but it is possible to export PDFs from acquired images along with
    associated data in various formats such as XML.
  • It is all Open Source, so the ability to integrate new functionality into the product is more straightforward – no need
    to license source code to update an Indexing module with specific behavior, for example.

That being said, there are some areas that Ephesoft is not yet quite as advanced in usability as the proprietary packages:

  • The ability to build out capture processes would require more technical skill when compared to the others – for example, there is not as advanced a UI to drag-and-drop modules into a process flow, etc.  Lower level configuration would probably be required.
  • At this time there is not as wide a user base or available pre-built templates as one might find with the proprietary software packages.
  • The availability of Export modules to facilitate the export of images and data to other systems is still somewhat limited – although there is an Alfresco export integration available leveraging our OpenMigrate product.

Conclusion

From our initial look, Ephesoft definitely seems to be a document capture package worth considering, especially if the organization is already committed to Open Source software. In addition, it also makes sense for Kofax and InputAccel users to consider depending on how much functionality they currently use in the organization.

As an example, we have many clients who use InputAccel primarily to capture images, perform OCR, convert to PDF, and export to a content management system like Documentum for additional indexing, workflow, etc.  In this type of simpler capture flow, Ephesoft could easily be swapped in to perform the capture, OCR, and conversion.  An Open Source product like
OpenMigrate  could then be used to monitor the Ephesoft export directories to grab the images and data and transport them into Documentum.

Has your organization started to look at Open Source alternatives for document scanning/capture or looked into Ephesoft before?  We would love to hear your comments or thoughts.